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Editorial Articles


Issue no 16, 16 - 22 JULY 2022

Unlocking India's Innovation Potential

Sameera Saurabh

 Innovations act like a driving force for the economy. Technology and its fast expansion have become a vital factor, which affects almost all the sectors including agriculture, manufacturing and services. Innovations and technological advancements play a significant role in deciding the way businesses and ventures participate in the nation's economic development as well as their expansion across the world.

At present, the world is changing rapidly and competitiveness of businesses needs to be maintained through continuous innovations by bringing in new technologies for improving the quality standards. The world is in the midst of an innovation era - one that began before the pandemic but is increasingly being defined by the acceleration in digital development over the past two years. Faster internet speeds and 5G mobile technology are serving as the foundations for deeper and greater connectivity and they are fuelling new economic opportunities.

India currently has 94 unicorns (startups) with a total valuation of around $300 billion. The high number of start-ups is part of the reason India rose in the World Intellectual Property Organization's Global Innovation Index ranking from 81 in 2015 to 46 in 2021.India's technology ascent in recent years is due in large measure to its focus on nurturing tech start-ups and incentivizing innovation. For instance, the $3 billion 'Startup India' initiative the government launched in 2016 has helped pave the way digitally by offering microfinancing and low-interest rate loans to entrepreneurs.

Notably, India has deployed technology to advance public health priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government launched the Aarogya-Setu app to track infections, which was developed in 21 days through public-private partnership. A part of this app, the CoWIN Portal, has received global acclaim for its success in becoming the digital backbone of world's largest vaccination drive executed by India. These innovations offer examples for expanding public services through digital technology.

Various Ministries of Government of India are engaged in mentoring and providing support in business and technology. Numerous branches of the government machinery are networking with other businesses to provide seed capital assistance and professional assistance to make the enterprise successful and achieve higher growth.

 MSME Champions Scheme

 In March 2022, the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, launched the MSME Innovative Scheme along with MSME Idea Hackathon 2022 under the MSME Champions Scheme. The primary objective is to promote and support untapped creativity and help the latest technologies and methods in the MSME sector.

The MSME Innovative Scheme is an amalgamation of three earlier schemes of the MSME Ministry: Incubation, Design and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). These three schemes will function as separate units with interflows and connections. The three schemes will work in tandem with each other and will be sequentially and parallelly integrated. The idea behind this is to have a structured approach toward encouraging, promoting and supporting innovation in India. The MSME Innovative Scheme will act as a host who will encourage entrepreneurs and guide in the development and also financially help business propositions that will benefit the society directly.

The primary objective of the MSME Innovative Scheme is to encourage innovation in India by providing a platform to entrepreneurs and to promote the complete value chain from developing ideas into innovation through incubation and design interventions. The scheme intends to provide appropriate facilities and support for the development of the concept to market, design competitiveness, and protection and commercialisation of intellectual property. This will be done to increase the number of MSMEs in India and support their growth.

The scheme also aims to create a culture of innovation and creative problem-solving in India through knowledge sharing and collaboration among various industries, institutions, government bodies, and research institutes. The scheme will provide funding to different stages of new businesses in hopes to increase participation, easy access to technology and help promote ideas in the market. The various agencies that are part of the scheme will serve as a link between industry and academic leaders and thinkers. With this, the government of India aspires to develop businesses and promote innovations that will benefit society as a whole while being commercially viable and sustainable.

The MSME Innovative Scheme will be a combination of three schemes: Incubation, Design and IPRs. These three schemes will act as separate units.

 Incubation

The first step under the incubation phase is the recognition of eligible institutions named Host Institute (HI), which will act as a Business Incubator (BI). The institutes will be chosen from among technical colleges, universities, professional institutes, R&D institutes, NGOs that are involved in incubation activities, and central or state government institutions that will participate in the process. The selected institutes will then invite ideas from MSMEs and others.

Following shortlisting of ideas by the HIs, the Project Management Units (PMUs) will carry out first-stage screening and will forward the screened ideas ahead to the Domain Expert Selection Committees (DESCs). The ideas will then be segregated into the following five verticals:

1. Agriculture and related industries

2. Healthcare and life sciences

3. Power and related subindustries

4. Services

5. Miscellaneous sectors

The five DESCs will evaluate the shortlisted ideas and send them to the Project Monitoring and Advisory Committee (PMAC). The approved ideas will receive financial assistance under the scheme for development.

The government will provide financial assistance of a maximum Rs. 15 lakh (US$ 19,600) per idea. Financial assistance of a maximum Rs. 1 crore (US$ 0.13 million) will be provided to HI for the procurement and installation of relevant plants and machinery.

The Design

The objective of the design component is to bring India's manufacturing sector and design expertise to a common platform. It aims to provide cost-effective and sustainable design solutions and help in further improvement. The scheme is divided into two parts - Design Project and Design Awareness Programme. The Design Project aims to provide resources to MSMEs for developing strategies and design-related products through advisory and intervention. The objective of the Design Awareness Project is to generate awareness about the importance of design among businesses through seminars, talks and workshops. The scheme focuses on spreading the value of designs and innovations in the industry among MSMEs.

 Under this scheme, MSMEs will submit their designs to the Implementation Agencies (IAs). The approved design projects will be granted a maximum amount of Rs. 40 lakhs (US$ 52,000). For student design projects, a maximum of Rs. 2.5 lakh (US$ 3,250) will be provided as financial assistance.

IPR

The main objective of the IPR component is to spread awareness about Intellectual Property in India and to encourage MSMEs to apply for patents. The aim is to protect MSMEs' innovations, ideas and knowledge-driven business strategies. Agencies eligible under the IPR scheme include MSME development institutes, technology centres, government bodies, departments, autonomous organisations, MSME India industry associations, non-profit bodies, NGOs, research and educational institutes, and universities and colleges.

Various levels of financial assistance are provided under the IPR scheme: Rs. 5 lakh (US$ 6,500) for foreign patents, Rs. 1 lakh (US$ 1,300) for domestic patents, Rs. 2 lakh (US$ 2,600) for GI registration, Rs. 15,000 lakh (US$ 200) for design registration and Rs. 10,000 (US$ 150) for trademarks.

Under the MSME Innovative Scheme, the government of India plans to launch industry awareness activities, training programmes and workshops to facilitate learning of relevant world practices. The government has also set up seed capital support for financial assistance for the incubation and growth of businesses. Few months after its launch, about 900 ideas have been approved for financial assistance of more than Rs. 36 crore (US$ 4.7 million). Supported by various schemes and initiatives, the MSME sector in India can see a huge growth in the coming future.

The main objective of the schemes of the Government is to promote and support untapped creativity of individual and to promote adoption of latest technologies in manufacturing as well as knowledge based innovative MSMEs or ventures. The Governement also supports engagement with MSMETechnology Centres who advise such MSMEs in expanding the business by supporting them in design, strategy and execution. The Technology Centres play an essential role and acts like an integral part in development of business.

The Ministry of MSMEs has developed 18 Technology Centers (TCs), which were previously known as Tool Room (10 Nos) and Technology Development Centers (8 Nos), spread across the country.

To spread the Technology Centres' reach, the Ministry has also started 15 new TCs for which the construction work has already been started at various places across the country. The Technology Centers' vital role is to assist MSME ventures in the country through access to advanced technologies, giving technical advisory support and talented labour by offering open doors for technical skill development to the youths at different levels extending from school dropouts to graduates and engineers.

 In these Technology Centres, variety of trainings are provided in numerous fields such as Diploma in Tool & Die Making, course in CAD/CAM, Diploma in Advanced Embedded Technology, course in Artificial Intelligence & Internet of Things, courses in Fragrance & Flavour creation, Diploma in Footwear Manufacture and Design, etc.

 Technology-based new enterprises are generally characterized as high risk and high growth businesses, and they require an empowering environment like BIs to enhance the prospects of accomplishment.

Innovation Promotion

Startup, Innovation & IPR division of Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) has undertaken a slew of proactive, pre-emptive and graded measures to spur the technology led startupinnovation ecosystem in the country and give an impetus to the new and emerging technologies. In tune with the changing dynamics, this proactive approach builds from established best practices designed to strengthen the overall tech startup development infrastructure by overcoming persistent bottlenecks. Some of the major initiatives are,

Technology Incubation and Development of Entrepreneurs (TIDE 2.0)

MeitY had initiated TIDE 2.0 to promote tech entrepreneurship through financial and technical support to incubators engaged in supporting startups primarily engaged in using emerging technologies such as IoT, AI, Block-chain, Robotics etc. in seven pre-identified areas of societal relevance. TIDE 2.0 is implemented through 51 incubators categorised into 3 major Groups eventually leading to handholding of approximately 2000 tech start-ups over a period of five years. The scheme has a total outlay of Rs 264.62 crore over a period of 5 years.

The seven select thematic areas identified to address societal challenges based on national priorities are in the realm of:

1. Healthcare

2. Education

3. Agriculture

4. Financial inclusion including digital payments

5. Infrastructure and transportation

6. Environment and clean tech

7. Clean Energy Solutions

TIDE Centers

Proposals from 51 TIDE 2.0 Incubation Centres are to be obtained from institutions of higher learning and R&D organisations having incubation facilities and established linkages with large companies, industry bodies, industry clusters so as to provide necessary mentorship and possible infusion of innovative businesses into their larger business operations. To leverage the diversity in the ecosystem, it is proposed to roll out TIDE 2.0 in a layered approach. For this it is envisaged that each of the 51 TIDE Centres will be categorized into three distinct groups as summarized below:

Group 1 Centers

Group 1 Centres (G1C) will offer deep support to startups including mentoring, capacity building, investing, and postinvestment advisory.

Group 2 Centers

Group 2 Centres (G2C) will enable a large number of aspiring entrepreneurs and students to build high-quality startups.

Group 3 Centers

Group 3 Centres (G3C) will initiate and evangelize innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in unexplored regions. These will typically be incubators that are recently established in academic institutes. G3Cs will initiate and evangelize entrepreneurship and innovation activity in regions with absent/ dormant ecosystems.

MeitY Startup Hub (MSH)

Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had initiated "MeitY Start-up Hub"(MSH) under TIDE 2.0 scheme as a singular, dynamic, collaborative platform for the tech startup community towards building meaningful synergies in the Indian tech startup space. MSH is being implemented by Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) at a total budget outlay of Rs. 5.18 crore over a period of five years.

MSH is acting as a national coordination, facilitation and monitoring centre integrating various innovation led start-up activities of MeitY.

Initiatives by Department of Science & Technology

Several government schemes are instilling confidence among children to think innovatively, look at out of the box S&T solutions for numerous problems and also to break barriers and initiate their adventures in science.

Innovation is the key to realizing the dream of new India. School children from remote areas are taking advantage of numerous schemes of the government to bring about innovative solutions to day to day problems. Navshri Thakur, a student from Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh developed a multi-useful kitchen machine which she submitted at the INSPIRE MANAK AWARDS, a programme of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and bagged the first prize for it. In the same competition, a stretcher embedded with shock absorbers by Owais Ahmed from Karnataka bagged the second prize.

The MANAK (Million Minds Augmenting National Aspirations and Knowledge) awards programme under the Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research' (INSPIRE) scheme, a flagship programme of DST targets to generate one million original ideas/innovations rooted in science and societal applications to foster a culture of creativity and innovative thinking among school children specially between Class 6 to 10. It calls on schools to participate in it every year.

The awards are being executed by DST with National Innovation Foundation - India (NIF), an autonomous body of DST. In the year 2020-2021 it brought 6.53 lakh ideas from more than 2 lakh middle and high schools across the country. The best of them are shortlisted for showcasing at district, state and then at the National Level Exhibition & Project Competition.

Rashmi Kumari hailing from a rural background from Uttar Pradesh who earlier lacked the confidence and decision about her future, is keen to pursue a career in STEM-thanks to Vigyan Jyoti programme of DST. The programme is encouraging around 10,000 young girls of Class IX-XII in 100 districts of the country to pursue higher education in underrepresented areas of STEM, in higher educational institutions of excellence. It provides a scholarship, visit to nearby scientific institutions, science camps, lecturers from eminent women scientists, and career counseling. Other programmes to inspire science learning in children are Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY), Science Olympiad Programme, and the India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP).

The Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY), mentorship and scholarship support is provided to pursue study in Basic Sciences. This programme administered and implemented by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, identifies students with talent and aptitude for research, helps them realize their potential to attract exceptionally motivated students to study science and pursue careers in research.

National Science Olympiad Programme aims at promoting excellence in Science and Mathematics among preuniversity students. Homi  Bhaba Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), Mumbai is the nodal organization for selection and training of students is done through Indian Association of Physics Teachers (IAPT) for participation of students at various International Olympiads meet.

The India Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP) is a tripartite initiative of DST, Lockheed Martin and Tata Trusts and aims at selecting innovations to create large scale social impact and bring industrial transformation in India. It aims to support Government of India's 'Start-up India' and 'Make in India' initiatives. Grants to winners seek to enable their prototyping the proposed technology solutions and begin the process of evaluating and applying these technologies and solutions for social, commercial and industrial benefit. All of these have played a critical role in inspiring young minds in finding creative solutions through S&T and fructifying the dream for New India.

India's strides in innovation are also advancing climate action and net-zero transition. India has been leading the International Solar Alliance - a group of 106 countries working to scale efficiencies of solar technologies - and the government recently launched the National Hydrogen Mission to leverage the potential of green hydrogen technology. It is also working closely with the private sector to put in place policies that support sustainable mobility, such as electric vehicles.

The direction of reforms launched by the Indian government to harness the gains from its technological and entrepreneurial capabilities highlights its strong focus on promoting balanced, inclusive and sustainable development.

 

To conclude, inventions take place when people think differently from the rest of others. To be an effective innovation, it needs to be simple and uncomplicated as well as focused on a particular operation. Any technology or invention must be simple enough to make the people understand about its functioning. All such innovative ideas and urge to turn them to reality leads an outstanding mind to success. Government of India is prioritizing to extend its support for all such innovators and enterprises to come forward and start believing in their big dreams of inventing something new and useful.

 (The author is Economic Adviser, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. She can be reached at sameera.saurabh@ gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.